Sunday, May 18, 2008

Watching Wheelbarrows

I remember reading a William Carlos Williams poem in my junior high literature book. Not sure of its meaning, I accepted it for the literary magic that it must be - so simple, but certainly full of symbolism that I couldn't yet master. It's called "The Red Wheelbarrow."

so much depends

a red wheel

glazed with rain

beside the white

Having survived my days as an English major in college, I now know that this poem has been interpreted as depicting the shape of a wheelbarrow and is either a simple description of something Mr. Williams saw out his window....or is symbolic of a sick girl who is "glazed" by the tears of her family. Either way, the beginning of this work of literature has been stuck in my audio memory this week...the "voice in my head" repetitively singing...

so much depends, so much depends, so much depends...

The countdown is over. It is here. This is testing week in our school. And my poem is a little different from its inspiration:

so much depends

on a #2 pencil

and a correctly

filled bubble

while not turning

the page

when the page

says "stop."

so much depends...

What's on the line here anyway? What does depend on this test? For my students, passing it means no retakes, no summer school, no remediation classes next year (at least not at the start of school,) no reason to feel shame, and many other "no's." For teachers, having their students pass this test means not having to slump down in the faculty meeting chair while the principal is disaggregating the data class by class. For principals, it means no superiors are breathing heavily down their freshly pressed collars. For district personnel, it means no scrambling to turn a school around before federal sanctions take over. So much depends...

I wish we could just look out our windows at the red wheelbarrows. Maybe next week...after the test.


john in nc said...

After mulling over Williams' poem for many years, I finally decided that it either meant "everything matters" or it was about the struggle between momentum and inertia (idle tool?).

Maybe that's what your poem is about, too?

Here's to fully filled-in bubbles and children who stop when they're told to stop -- and soon looking at the window for the red wheelbarrow. Have you brought one down to the schoolyard yet?

Dina said...

I studied this poem in a summer school for English-smitten geeks round about eighth grade, myself. Our instructor, a charismatic grad student from Princeton, gave the definitive reading of it for me, intoning the first few lines with a slow, grave, contained smile, which escalated subtly in pitch until he hit the word "chickens"-- which is inherently one of the funniest words in the English language anyway-- and we would all crack up.

It is absurd that *anything* could depend on one's spatial relation to chickens. And yet, it does. And somehow, this is a joyous, beautiful thing-- especially, perhaps, in contrast to what we *think* things depend upon-- such as results on standardized exams.

I love your blog,Cindi-- come visit mine. Same subject and grade level.